A Glut of Fruit
STRANGE things happen to the English climate, and one spring and summer the sun shone day after day. The next year was generally dark and cold, but the sunshine was stored, and the blossom burst forth in an effulgence over orchard and hedgerow, and there was a glut of fruit.
That was the year when James Turner and His American wife and his American-born daughter came for a visit to his old home near the East Anglian coast; and when they pushed open the gate into the little garden of his old home on the marshes, all the old trees that he had known so well were bearing heavily. The trees had become woodier with the years, bent farther away from the sea under the influence of the biting winds that blew across the marshes; but here were still the miniature dessert-apples that had looked luscious to James’s eyes before he had known the fruitage of a land of more sun; the rosy-cheeked neat green apples that bloomed in their foliage like flowers; massive red-cheeked pears, hanging in thin leafage; harvest bullaces, like golden beads bronzed on one side; sloes, like grape-colored beads; damsons, and greengages. There was even a scattering of purple fruit high up on the tall poplar-like plum tree that had almost become barren in James’s boyhood.
Already, in the train bearing them from the port, James had discerned the wonderful harvest of fruit. It hung in the low orchards, against the high garden-walls, on the stiff trees trained — as if in mystic shapes — on the southern ends of the brick farmhouses.
‘There, father,’ cried Margaret, ‘you said there’d be plenty of flowers but no fruit, and the fruit’s as plenty as the flowers. The trees are very little, but they’re loaded to the ground.’
‘ I see,’ answered her father absently, being absorbed at that moment in his own inner consciousness. He had come on this trip half-heartedly; for he was a man who found his peace in continuous, forward-looking action.
‘You have n’t a bit of sentiment, father,’ said Margaret during the negotiations for this journey, looking up at him with a half-teasing, half-mystified expression.
‘ I suppose that’s like a man,’ put in her mother, a trifle seriously, as if she did not like to find anything in her husband hard to comprehend.
James hardly understood what they were talking about: this trip was to his mind an unnatural turning to the past, a boring experience which he felt should be accepted by him loyally, as a good husband and father. However, the day he landed and saw the chimney pots on the dirty rows of brick cottages at the port, something wakened in him: he had forgotten that such things as chimney pots existed.
His unsettlement went on apace during the journey to his old home. As the two women excitedly looked, questioned, and commented, he sat with a heavy air, as far as possible silent. How different it all seemed to them and to him! They would be surprised if they knew that in spite of appearances he found it vastly more interesting than they. He felt suddenly detached from his family — that firm bond that he had felt ever since he had had them was somehow loosened a little. The stirring of memory made him restless: like an adolescent, he hardly knew what to make of himself.
‘Still a-plenty of white ducks on the common,’ he was thinking as they neared their journey’s end. ‘The grass looks so green it’s fair blue. How dank the pits look! That’s where old man Riches fell in and got drowned. Though he was a stargazer, he did n’t prophesy that, and folks did n’t set much store by such goings-on after he died.’
He was half smiling when the train drew into the market town near his native village. As usual, the liner landed on a week-end, and they reached his old home early on a Sunday afternoon. Mary and Margaret broke into delighted exclamations when they saw the innumerable village children everywhere blotching the scene by their white pinafores, and James felt a thrill of pride when he explained that all English families, however poor and miserable, thus neatly observed the Sabbath. Curiosity stirred as to the antecedents of all these children. Could he recognize their breeds?
They quickly settled themselves, and under pressure from Margaret set out for James’s old home. Green things had grown, but brick and stone had hardly altered. Sometimes familiar sights looked strange; harvest was just over, and James found his eyes lingering with surprised delight on the shapely thatched ricks everywhere grouped about farm-buildings. On this fine afternoon they gleamed across the levels like pale golden pagodas, so ethereal as to bely the hard labor which his memory associated with their construction. ‘They have good farmers about here,’ he said aloud.
When they reached the poor little farm that had been James’s home, he was touched by the excitement which he saw on the two blond faces; and with a half-remorseful twinge of tenderness he put himself forward and opened the wicket in the hedge. Once in, the fruit burst on him, and he stopped, as if a message had been flashed to him from his boyhood. At that moment his discontent disappeared, and he began again to be satisfied with the moment — which was his natural condition.
Then the bright door-knob was turned, and a middle-aged woman came out. With that, the Turners remembered their manners and went forward.
‘ Please excuse our coming in in this way,’ began James, lifting his hat in his best manner. ‘I lived here till I went to America, and we came to ask if I might show my wife and daughter around.’
‘Step you in and set you down,’ was the quick impersonal answer, given in a pleasant voice, with the manner of perfect courtesy. The travelers found themselves in a tiny room, with a diminutive grate in which burned the smallest fire that the women had ever seen. Tall glazed-china dogs were on the mantelpiece, homemade rugs of clean bits of black wool on the floor, and roseate mahogany chairs with concave seats stood about, as highly polished as if they had just been varnished. Confronting the doorway stood a fine grandfather’s clock. The women perceived with astonishment that this neat little room was sitting-room, dining-room, and kitchen combined.
Here they all sat for a moment, uncertain, and before anyone had spoken a tall young man appeared at the doorway, coming from the ancient flint and brick barn at the side. He stood hesitating a moment, thrown into relief by the light, and his bony features, gray eyes, and flaxen hair marked him as a near relative of the mistress of the house.
‘Abner,’ she began, with a touch of formality in her manner surprising to the visitors from rural America, ‘here be wisitors now come from out foreign to take a look round Gorse Cottage.’
At her words something snapped in James’s consciousness: the old-fashioned name, the family resemblance, had awakened memories. He jumped up. ‘You be Myleses,’ he stammered.
‘And who might you be?’ returned the young man, in a mellow deliberate voice.
‘James Turner,’ answered the other. ‘My father and grandfather lived here till my father lost the place. Abner Myles was the millman at the Black Mill.’
The strong face of the woman had lighted. ‘Jimma Tarner!’ she exclaimed. ‘I would n’t ha’ thought it. You have got into the American talk, like—beggin’ your pardon, mum.’ She made a courteous inclination toward Mrs. Turner, as if to excuse her familiarity. ‘I be Emma Barrett, Emma Myles that was. My poor husband got drowned a-fishin’, and I come to do for Abner when he set up for hisself in Gorse Cottage. Some judge me for his mother, but we be brother and sister. I’m the oldest and he’s the youngest.’
She spoke as if the relationship were one on which she loved to dwell. But her rustic suavity did not let her linger on her own affairs. ‘How the memory come,’ she continued, as she sat with her rough hands folded across her white apron, looking at James smilingly. ‘Now I see that you be Tarner right enow. That do bring back my young time! There ware a rare lot o’ Tarners about that time o’ day.’ She turned toward Mrs. Turner. ‘But they’re out o’ the parish now.’
‘Mostly dead,’ said James, shortly.
Emma looked up, slightly startled, as if she had given a wrong turn to the conversation. ‘You won’t wish to stop indoors,’ she said, after a moment; and rising, she led them out to the bright flower-border. ‘ You ‘ll find some things have got on and some have perished,’ she went on.
‘The haysel was fair, t’ year,’ contributed Abner, taking up the discourse with considerably less of the local dialect and singsong. ‘The corn’s vera moderate. There’s a glut of fruit, and it’s now fit; but it’s nothing gain. The market’s spoiled. But I carry my pockets full.’ With a smile he put in his hands and handed out to each what seemed to them a wizened specimen. ‘I hear you dry and bottle fruit in America?’ he ended, inquiringly.
‘The woman what lived against ours used to put down bullaces with mutton fat on top. Might I ask, mum, is that the way you manage?’ Emma asked with a shy hesitation in her manner.
Here the American family burst into the conversation; for they came from a part of America that lived by fruit, and they knew a whole lore of canning and preserving and jelly-making. Mary spoke up first. ‘Margie and I would like to show you how to put up fruit. We do whole cupboards full at home.'
‘ I ‘ll furnish the bottles and the sugar,’ broke in James, seizing the opportunity for action. ‘Provided,’ he went on, ‘that I can help pick.’
As he stood in the centre of the little domain, with fruit as it were showering on all sides, he began to feel again that this country belonged to him.
‘Agreed,’ said Abner, obviously delighted.
‘All right,’ said James, eager to repeat the happier episodes of his boyhood.
The women were all smiling, but beneath Emma’s polite smile of acceptance was just visible the cautious and puzzled uncertainty of the rustic who receives an unexpected benefit.
It was Mary who in a moment caught sight of the sun dropping into the horizon far across the marshes. ‘It’s time to start back,’ she said.
‘ We’ll go home by the “kissing-gate,” ‘ said James, gayly, his return of mental health showing itself by a half-jocular, half-teasing desire to impress his family with his knowledge of local topography.
‘You know,’ he was saying as they went out of the gate, ‘the lanes are called lokes and each has its name. So have the fields. Stop,’ he continued: ‘here you see what this country’s like’; and, sweeping the landscape, he proceeded to count in the distance five dark brick windmills, like giant fourleaved clovers, and six church-towers, near and distant. The aftermath of the sunset was still lingering, and long sweepings of rose and orange-colored cloud ornamented the broad circle of the sky.
‘This old level is about as sightly as the top of the hill at home, don’t you think?’ he asked, and looked happily from the happy face of his wife to the happy face of his daughter.
‘Wonderful!’ answered his wife, showing by her low voice how delighted she was.
But Margaret, much as she evidently admired the scene, was too eager to satisfy her curiosity to linger over it. ‘Who are those people at the farm?’ she burst out, as they went forward.
‘Oh, yes,’ returned her father, ‘I was going to tell you. It’s a queer thing their turning up like that. You ‘ll notice I did n’t match stories of old times with them very much. ‘T was because the stories I recollected of their family mostly would n’t bear telling. What you’ve seen is the flower of the family. There were twenty-two children of them born at the mill over yonder, but they never had more than eight alive at any one time.’
‘How fearful!’ exclaimed Mary. ‘Twenty-two children and only eight alive at any one time! That was “a glut of fruit that was nothing gain”! What was the matter?’
‘Well,’ went on her husband, ‘in old times the mill wings used to sweep the ground, and they made way with two girls — both by the name of Becky. I guess the rest died of their hardships. When the old man was in drink, he ‘d throw his wife and children into the dike, and drag them about by the hair; and her ears were all ragged where he had tore out the earrings. She was very ladylike, with fine eyes and a skin all little wrinkles. I remember her well. Mother said she could wash and bake and brew all in one day any time — with all those children. Once father saw her husband drinking in at the Maid’s Head, and she went right up and smashed in the big window. She knew the publican could n’t take action because he was serving a man reeling drunk. They say she had the heart of a lion to begin with, but in the end she had only the heart of a mouse.’
Mary had heard this narrative pityingly, but Margaret evidently relished it as a drama. ‘How like a novel!’ she exclaimed. ‘Who would ever have thought you knew all these exciting histories, father! Mrs. Barrett and Abner deserve a great deal of credit, don’t they?’
‘That they do,’ said her mother.
‘They favor their mother,’ returned her father. ‘I recollect,’ he went on, ‘when the sister next Emma died.’
They were then crossing the field which separated the marsh from the church, and he paused a moment to look up at the fine tracery of the soundhole in the tower.
‘She was twenty-five year old, and I helped ring her passing bell. They keep them a week about here, — unless they can’t because they’ve died sudden, — but when the week was up this time, the old fellow was roaring drunk, and he got it into his head he would n’t let the body out of the house. In the finish they took it by main force, but he followed the procession along the causeway a-cursing. The poor mother had to be fair lifted on either side, to keep her from dropping; and when they got to the grave the rascally old sexton had dug it too deep, and they had to lower the box into water. Then the mother fainted dead, and they had to carry her off. I guess that was when Emma come to the fore, tending to everything. You said, when we come along, it was queer the church was so near the marsh. Well, you see it is too near,’ he concluded, turning to his wife.
Even Margaret was a touch affected by her father’s last narrative, and they passed silently through the crowded churchyard to the footpath.
But by now James was in full swing of reminiscence and of explanation, and he returned to the village looking first one side and then another, to recognize and be recognized. When they reached their sitting-room at the Catherine Wheel, he turned: ‘I see I shall have to thank you two for getting me into a fine holiday,’he said, giving a pat on the shoulder to each of the two partners of his house.
The fruit-picking was finished, and in due course the bottling.
‘A fine young man,’ said James, as they walked home along the causeway, when the operations were complete. He ‘d certainly get on in America, but there’s not such a good chance here.’
'“Several have gone over,’ said Margaret, laughing. ‘I found after a while that that meant a great many, just as “moderate” means very bad.’
‘Don’t you laugh at my old neighbors,’ put in her father, half smiling at her sharpness. ‘Their life’s hard, and they don’t always dare to come out flat, as we do.’
‘No,’ said Mary. ‘I’ve been a little embarrassed helping Mrs. Barrett. You’d think she was a stranger in her own house. But Abner’s different.’
‘Yes, the sauciness ain’t knocked out of him yet,’ said James. ‘Well, we’ve plenty such in America and can do with more. Why do you suppose he’s not gone over?’ He questioned his wife, as he so often did on some puzzling aspect of human behavior.
‘Sentiment,’ she returned, laughing in his face, till they all laughed.
‘ There you see what good that is,’ he retorted, ‘ keeping a likely young man working hard where he’ll never get any forwarder. A season or two more like this, and he’ll hire out to a farmer. I hear he does a harvest now to get hold of a lump sum once in the year.’
‘ Father, father, can’t you understand a man’s wanting to stay where he’s been brought up if he can?’ said Margaret, hanging to his arm as they walked. ‘ I admire him for it. He’s got lots of nice feeling.’
‘Yes,’ said her mother seriously, ‘and he’s had luck in having that sister with him. She’s an old hand at the work. She told me she’d “done her piece” and could have gone to live quiet with her sister, only Abner needed her.’
‘They always stick together, that family,’ said James. ‘Not like some in this parish that could n’t recognize their brother’s children if they met them.’
‘You do tell the funniest stories about this place, father,’ said Margaret. ‘Not know your own brother’s children! ‘
‘Perhaps you’d be the same if you had such a lot of relations as some of them about here must have,’ said her mother dryly. ‘But it’s a good quality in the Myleses to stick together. Yes, they seem very praiseworthy. They don’t spare work, and they’re proud.'
‘ By the way,’ said James, ‘the people at the inn told me Abner made a practice of taking summer visitors out driving to earn a little. They never mentioned that to us — would n’t, for fear we’d think they were begging. But what would you say to his taking us out?’
‘What a splendid idea, father,’ cried Margaret, while her mother seemed to hesitate. ‘I want to see the ocean on the other side of the dunes, and go to all those churches sticking up in the distance. Let’s go to the one with the pretty name first — Oxtead Turf. I ‘ ve read the map and lots of places sound charming.’
‘All right,’ said her father, echoing her enthusiasm. ‘That’s a good idea. Help them and piece out our holiday. Now that we have got into it, I don’t know but what we may as well stay here a little longer.’
‘People come here for holidays from all over England,’ put in Margaret, as if to justify the move from the point of view of friends at home. Her mother was silent.
They visited the six churches, and at several points saw the ocean roll in on a blank shingle. They were a happy party as they drove about in Abner’s little trap; and James decided that his money was never so sweet to him as when he used it in the very neighborhood where he had once been miserably poor.
But after a time the mellow autumn weather broke, and the winds began, for which the district was famous. One brilliant restless day they took a drive when the wind was making the dikes flow like rivers, ruffling up the glassy surfaces into waves. The dikes reflected the high blue of the sky, and their bright color and liquid hardness as they ran off into the marshes made a striking contrast to the general softness of the sun-melted levels. That evening Mary complained of neuralgia, and went early to bed, remarking that the fine weather had broken and they had better move on. She was unexpectedly firm on this point; usually she did not insist on any arrangement that was suggested by her own comfort.
James was mildly surprised, but he took her suggestion as a sign of the severity of her attack. ‘So you don’t want we should stay our month out. We’ll talk it over in the morning,’ he answered gently. ‘Sleep now, my poor girl.’ And he kissed her and went out to write his letters for the American post.
It must have been close to midnight, and James was sealing his letters, when the door opened and Margaret came into the sitting-room. To his amazement he saw that her fair hair was blown in streamers about her face and she was dressed in the round little cap and broad cape which had been her costume on shipboard.
‘You’ve been out, Margie,’ he said slowly, giving her a steady look.
She stood firmly in the doorway, doing nothing to right her appearance, but gripping her cape as if for support. She looked at once younger and older than he had ever seen her.
‘Yes,’ she returned absently; and before her father could question further she went on, ‘Mother said we must leave at once.’ She paused, as if it were difficult to surmount the obstacle of her mother’s comfort, swallowed hard, and continued, ‘I think the wind’ll drop. Anyhow, I — can’t — go.’ Her pauses gave her last words emphasis, and she dropped her head.
James stared, and he cursed his wife’s illness, which had apparently thrown a delicate situation on him.
‘We’ll talk it over in the morning,’ he answered; ‘ but where have you been now? ‘
She looked up sharply. ‘Out walking with Abner Myles.’ As her blue eyes flashed, they filled with tears, her face became convulsed, and she turned and ran.
Her father was left struck to the heart with amazement, anger, grief, and uncertainty. In a moment he followed her, and knocked gently at her door. He could hear intermittent sobbing within, but the intervals in her weeping bore no relation to his repeated knocks. He tried the door and it was locked.
Because of his wife’s illness, he slept in a room adjoining hers, and he spent a miserable night. His holiday that he had been enjoying had become hideous, and his bitterness stretched back into a remoter past. If he had only talked a little more at home about his early life, Mary and Margaret would n’t have sentimentalized it as they had done. He should have told them how six of his family used to sleep in one tiny room, lying so close under the window that it could never be opened. But with them poverty had never been combined with brutality, as in the Myles family. When he thought of that young man’s aspiring to Margie, he almost flung himself from his bed; but just after he became vaguely conscious of the first show of light, he fell asleep.
He must have overslept, for he knew nothing till his wife — pale but fully dressed — appeared seated by his bedside. ‘Mary!’ he exclaimed gratefully, reaching out his hand for hers. Both were silent, and James, to his great relief, felt that his wife knew.
‘Yes,’ she answered to his questioning look, ‘Margie looked so bad when she came into my room this morning that I asked her what was up, and she gave me the same answer that she tells me she gave you. I made her go on and she told the whole story.’
James’s wolfish curiosity sprang to his face, but solicitude for his wife restrained him.
‘ I knew you would manage to get it out of her,’ he said as quietly as he could. ‘Tell me’—he held his breath.
‘There’s not much to tell so far,’returned his wife quickly. Then, as his face expressed his relief, ‘But what can you expect, throwing two young people together like that, day after day?’ She spoke almost querulously. ‘’T was all very well at first when the difference in their bringing-up made a kind of barrier. I did n’t want to spoil your holiday; but ever since I saw how natural they’ve been getting together, I’ve been anxious. Margie’s not like some girls. Appearances don’t mean much to her. And I was the same,’ she added firmly, after a moment, looking her husband straight in the face.
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, startled.
‘I mean,’ she went on, with a slight quiver, as if afraid to hurt him on a vital point, but none the less determined to go forward, whatever the consequences, ‘I mean that when I married you it did n’t seem a much better match than for Margie to marry Abner. And everyone sees now that I did very well for myself,’ she added, pausing a little for emphasis, and to satisfy herself that her husband was taking her words as they were meant. But she saw uncertainty struggling on his face. ‘Of course, I don’t mean to say that you gave me anything like the hard life Abner ‘d give Margie if they married and settled in Gorse Cottage. But you say yourself he’d get on in America. What young man would you rather have for a son-in-law? In some ways he’s got a fine inheritance. What’s to hinder your taking him home and letting him clerk in the stores, the same as you were doing in my father’s when we got engaged? He’d soon catch on in every way.’
‘Never!’ roared James, leaping from his bed. ‘I don’t see how you can compare us. I ‘d been in America a long time, and was clerking at your father’s and making good before I ever made love to you. How does that fellow dare to think of Margie! He’s a cad, that sprig of a drunkard.’
He began dragging on his clothes in a fury. Amazement was working through him that his wife should serve up to him, all cooked and garnished in this fashion, the raw and outrageous new subject. He who had been brought up in this parish knew how courtship in the lokes soon ended. Nine out of every ten girls — at the moment he credited Abner with more than the full brutishness of the rustic lover, and he became more and more gloomy as he continued his toilet.
‘I’ll tell you what I think about it, Jim,’said his wife quietly, after regarding him for a few minutes with wide eyes. ‘Just the very fact that it’s come so sudden and natural makes me think it may have gone deep. Sometimes even very young girls don’t get Over these things easily. I suppose Margie must have felt it all working in her last night — especially after I spoke about our leaving: she said she felt she just had to go out to get the fresh air, and there she met Abner — leaning against the big oak, looking up at our windows. He was taken aback and told her he came there every night. He’s looked calm enough — I would n’t have thought it. Well, evidently this time she caught him off his guard, and when she said we might be going off at once, he asked her to walk down the loke with him. ‘T would be the only time, he told her. She says they did n’t say more than a word or two; but when they turned by the kissing-gate, the wind struck them fit to knock them over, and he seized her and kissed her. She started to run home and she seems to remember that they faced a kind of battle together. When they got here, they kissed again; but she thinks she began it; he did n’t make any advance toward her after she started running away from him — only kept at her side. You can see how it all was,’ she finished, appealingly. ‘I don’t think he’s behaved badly. He can’t help his affections. I should think you’d have a little fellow-feeling for him, Jim — he’s almost like your own flesh and blood —living in your old home, and all that.’
She spoke almost severely, and James had a vision of her as a mothercat, discreetly protecting her kitten.
‘I’ll not take any young man into my business in order to help him to marry my daughter,’ he enunciated, comforting himself with the conviction that Margaret would never be mad enough to marry Abner and settle at Gorse Cottage. She had always been level-headed. He was doing his parental duty by refusing to make it easy for her to give her children undesirable blood. Mary was weaker toward her child than he would have expected. Poor Mary, she did look poorly! But why had n’t she mentioned her suspicions earlier? This holiday had been mismanaged all round, and they were all suffering in consequence. James longed passionately to be at home spinning along the valley roads in his good little ‘tin Lizzie.’ When he made the round of his stores, every moment had its own neat little problem that it was only a pleasure to solve.
They sat at breakfast silently. Margaret did not appear, and they hardly knew what to do next in the difficult situation that had arisen.
‘ We can’t drag Margie away to-day’, said her mother. ‘She’s been brought up too free for that. It might make her desperate. Abner won’t communicate with us: it’s all too new, and he won’t want to commit her.’
‘Anyhow, it’s not the way in these parts,’ said James, dryly.
‘He’s sure to try to see her, or to write her. The thing for us is to keep in her confidence.’
To this James could accede.
‘But I don’t feel as if I could let matters drift,’ she went on. ‘I think you and I had better go down there, as if to say good-bye; and we’ll see what happens. But you must n’t be violent.'
‘Are you able?’ asked James anxiously. His wife looked haggard at this moment and he remembered sadly how up to now he had been able to pride himself on her looking more like Margie’s sister than her mother.
’I’ll take an aspirin, if necessary,’she answered, shortly. ‘Only don’t be violent.’ She looked at him beseechingly, her eyes filling with tears; and he bent and kissed her.
The wind had fallen, and it was a dull day, making for rain. Emma was feeding her fowls — scattering grain, cutting up nettles for their necessary green stuff; regarding each bird attentively, in order to satisfy herself as to its condition and appetite.
She came forward courteously, as always. ‘ Good-morning,’ she said, gravely; and both Mary and James imagined a constraint underneath. Nevertheless, as usual she appeared more at her ease than they. ‘Abner now tell me yo’ be leavin’ directla.’
’Yes, soon, perhaps to-morrow,’murmured Mary. ‘Is Abner here?’
‘He be now gone on the Green,’answered his sister; then, after a moment of general silence, she added in a low significant voice: ‘He did n’t let on where he was off to, but he put on his Sunda clothes.’
Her eyes dropped.
James hastily rose, but his wife kept her seat quietly, and put out her hand and rested it on his. ‘We wish to thank you for all you’ve done for us,’ she continued formally.
‘We have done all our possibles,’returned Emma proudly; then, with a half-frightened look on her face as if plunging rashly, ‘If you’d a come after Michaelmas, you would n’t ha’ found us. I doubt Abner ‘ll be forced to tarn out. The boy be a man and he have warked, — that he have, — but the weather ha’ ben bad, and the prices warse. Fare this year’ll be his downfall.’
‘Perhaps you’ll come out to America,’ said Mary boldly, looking her infuriated husband in the face as she did so. Only his knowledge of her headache and his admiration of her grit restrained him from bursting into speech.
‘Not I,’retorted Emma quickly. ‘England’s good enough for me and Abner. He have set his heart on gettin’ on over here,’ she went on, almost fiercely. ‘We know a-plenta get on over there; but here’ — She stopped short of the rudeness which she evidently desired. ‘You kin go over to the beach and see how wicious the ocean be. That is loud of a winter, and I don’t wish for no more on it than what I get. Our fam’la be all in the same mind. None on us hain’t never crossed since our aunt, that wore the farst from these parts to go, went by water all the way from this parish. She took a wherry at the staithe and a sailin’ wessel when she got to the sea. She ware shipwrecked three times and took six months to get there.’
Mary had sat quietly, gazing at Emma during this outburst, while James, fidgeting, kept his eyes on the floor. His wife had evidently satisfied herself as far as this visit was concerned by the time that Emma had ended, and she then rose to make their adieus.
‘You ha’ left us a rare fine cupboard full of fruit, mum,’now said Emma in haste, as if fearful of ending ungratefully. ‘That will be a pull-up come winter.’ Her expression was a pathetic mixture of courtesy, contrition, and unregenerate displeasure.
They shut the gate with ever so little a bang. ‘There, Jim’, exclaimed Mary, nervously glancing behind her as they got into the trap, ‘you’re jealous for your daughter and she’s jealous for her brother. You can see she suspicions the whole thing, and is trying to give the impression that our being here has made Abner neglect his work and been the straw that’s broken the camel’s back so far as his finances are concerned. She has n’t any more idea of Abner’s marrying Margie that you have of Margie’s marrying Abner. Well, I see these people’s wonderful politeness don’t carry them too far when their human nature gets stirred up’.
James could hardly bear not to whip up the horse to a gallop, so eager was he to be back at the Catherine Wheel and satisfy himself that Margie was not eloping with Abner in their absence. Mary seemed to trust the young people, and she relaxed now that the strain of the call was over; but to James the silence and slow pace made necessary by her weakness gave the memory of the scene that he had just experienced time to rankle. Emma Myles scorning his daughter for her brother! Could anyone ever think of a Myles without remembering their monstrous ‘glut of fruit that was nothing gain’?
When the Turners entered the Catherine Wheel, they found, to their surprise, Margaret, carefully dressed, seated writing at the bureau in the sitting-room. As they came in, she quickly rose, handed her mother a letter, and ran out —leaving her father this time furious that she had not stopped to assist her mother.
Mary weakly handed the letter to James to open—thus delighting him. It was addressed in stiff old-fashioned writing to ‘ Mr. and Mrs. James Turner. By Hand.’ It ran as follows: —
DEAR SIR AND MADAM, —
With your daughter’s permission I write to say that I love her. But I have no mind to bring her down. I have not got on as I hoped to have done by this time, having worked hard ever since I was a small boy. I will give notice to turn out come Michaelmas — which is near. You will see me in America, and I trust to prosper and to deserve your sweet daughter.
James read the letter impassively, and handed it to Mary in silence. She read it with streaming eyes, and an expression of relief. ‘Now, Jim, what can we do about it?’ she asked, in a firm tone that belied the emotion on her face.
‘I told you the other day that John Riches and Frank Borrett were coming over when the work slacked up for the winter, and they gave out they wanted to bring home one or two hired men.'
‘He can start with them,’returned Mary dryly, leaning back in her chair. ‘England has a glut of human fruit every year,’ she went on musingly. ‘It’s good luck for us,’she added, reaching out her hand and gently stroking her husband’s. ‘The poor sister,’ she pursued, smiling a little. ‘Emma “have done her piece” sure enough; now she can go to her married sister.’
‘Let her,’returned James savagely; but of his own accord he bent to help his wife to her feet, that she might go upstairs to seek out the girl.